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Pakistan’s religious mainstream makes common cause with militants

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I can't help but cringe every time I read about the Deobandi roots of the Taliban. The Deobandi sect of Islam was founded in a little POS town less than a hundred miles from the capital of India. Partition has turned out to be a blessing for modern India. Let the Pakistanis deal with these freaks.

The assassination on January 4th of Salman Taseer by Malik Mumtaz Qadri, a commando in his security detail, contained a chilling message: the Barelvi sect of Islam has become a militant new force in Pakistani politics. Most Pakistanis are Barelvis. They have traditionally disavowed violence, followed the peaceful Sufi traditions of the subcontinent, and paid homage to scores of saints, big and small, at tombs across the country.

Mr Qadri is also a Barelvi. But when he determined to “punish” Mr Taseer for supposedly committing blasphemy—the governor of Punjab province had campaigned against Pakistan’s blasphemy law—Mr Qadri seems to have been influenced by the rise of firebrand Barelvi mullahs calling for all blasphemers (on their definition) to be killed. After Mr Qadri’s arrest, Barelvis marched in their thousands, along with co-religionists of other sects, parties and persuasions, shouting “death to blasphemers”. Lawyers showered rose petals on the murderer, and the policemen guarding him have uploaded approving videos of him on YouTube. A full-blown, all-party religious revival has erupted, a disturbing turn for both state and society.

The Taliban—who hail from the hardline Deobandi sect of Islam, close to the Wahhabism espoused by Osama bin Laden—have stoked the mainstream resurgence. Facing defeat by Pakistan’s army in the tribal areas of the north-west, the Taliban struck urban targets, including police stations and the army’s general headquarters. When the government persuaded Barelvi mullahs to condemn suicide-bombings as “unIslamic”, the Taliban assassinated them and bombed their mosques and Sufi shrines.

Yet the trauma has made the Barelvi leaders more militant, not less. The anti-blasphemy bandwagon makes common cause with the Taliban. Other groups have sensed an opportunity for an Islamic political revival, including non-Taliban Deobandi and Wahhabi groups. Two such groupings play a critical role in Pakistani politics.

The Jamiat i Ulema e Islam (JUI), a Deobandi outfit, is led by a pragmatist, Maulana Fazal ur Rehman. The JUI contests elections in the tribal areas, and is a coalition partner of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party. But Mr Rehman must heed hardliners inclined to abandon parliamentary politics and switch loyalties to the Taliban. So the JUI is against the “war on terror” because it is an “American” war. It has also condemned Mr Taseer.

The other grouping represents Lashkar-e-Taiba, notorious anti-India jihadists. The organisation is banned, but “charities” front for it. Both groupings hate America, retain close links with the ISI, Pakistan’s powerful military intelligence agency, and detect Western plots behind Mr Taseer’s campaign to amend the blasphemy laws.

Anti-American sentiment, in turn, provides the excuse for the government and army not to do more against the havens in North Waziristan of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Taliban associates in the Haqqani network. The army says that, apart from being stretched by having to hold former Taliban areas and to defend its border with India, it cannot go into Waziristan without full public backing. This week America’s vice-president, Joe Biden, was in the capital, Islamabad, urging action. Pointing to a rising tide of anti-American passion, the government and army appear to have shrugged their shoulders.


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What say the 'moderates'?

"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies."

Senator Barack Obama
Senate Floor Speech on Public Debt
March 16, 2006


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